Updated: Apr 3
Every year, NBA fans and collectors eagerly anticipate the arrival of new rookie talent to the league. While some players enter the league with heavy fanfare and receive heavy coverage by the media, others fly under the radar and are often overlooked. However, these unheralded rookies can still surprise us with their potential, making them valuable investments for collectors looking to add value to their collections.
In this article, we'll take a closer look at five underrated NBA rookies who are showing a lot of promise and why you should consider investing in their rookie cards while they are still affordable. These players may not be household names yet, but with their potential to improve and make an impact in the league, their cards could significantly increase in value in the coming years. (Stats are accurate at the time of writing and are subject to change as the season is ongoing)
1. Tari Eason
Tari Eason was drafted by the Houston Rockets with the 17th overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft after a standout season at LSU. Even though he has been a consistent and efficient performer all season, he has been flying under the radar due to the Rockets' lack of success. Despite being selected outside of the lottery, Eason has shown great potential on both ends of the court, averaging 9.2 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game in only 20.9 minutes per game. His per 36 numbers are even more impressive, with averages of 15.8 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 2.0 steals.
Recently, Eason had one of his best games of the year, posting an impressive performance with 21 points, 12 rebounds, and four steals in 31 minutes in a loss against the Warriors. Despite his solid performance, Eason has not received as much attention as some other rookies in the league, making this a good buy low opportunity. With his two-way potential and continued strong performances, he could be a valuable asset for the Rockets going forward.
2. Jaden Hardy
Jaden Hardy was a consensus five-star recruit and one of the top players in the 2021 class. He opted to forgo the traditional college route and played in the G League instead, averaging 17.7 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. However, he struggled with his efficiency shooting a paltry 35.1 percent from the field.
Due to those struggles, he fell to the 2nd Round and was drafted 37th in the 2022 NBA draft by the Sacramento Kings and traded on draft night to the Dallas Mavericks. Hardy struggled out of the gate and was not seeing the court a lot. His play has picked up of late though and he has averaged 19.0 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists in 7 games in the month of March. His teammate, Luka Doncic, had some high praise for him for his overall development as of late. "He's going to be a great, great player," Doncic said of Hardy. "He's already good, really good, but I think talking to him, understanding the game -- I think sometimes he goes really quick. I just tell him to slow down. But he's really good, and he listens. He listens to me a lot, so I think he's going to be really, really good.”
He has deep range and is a high level shot maker, he has the chance to be a 20+ ppg scorer sooner rather than later. If he has Luka’s approval, he has mine, so buy his cards before it’s too late.
3. AJ Griffin
AJ Griffin is one of the youngest players in his draft class as he is still only 19 years old but coming into the league his body was NBA ready as he measured at 6’6 (6”10 wingspan) and 200 pounds. He is the son of an NBA assistant coach (Adrian Griffin), and he already has an elite skill. He is a lights out 3-point shooter. He converted nearly 45% of his threes during his single season at Duke and as a rookie he is knocking them down at a 38% clip which is nothing to scoff at. His minutes have fluctuated throughout the season likely because his defense and playmaking aren’t quite at the level you would want. However, he has the build to improve as a defender and with some more seasoning his playmaking can improve. Coach’s sons are generally known to be very coachable, so he is someone to keep an eye on as he continues to mature and develop into a more complete player.
4. Mark Williams
Mark Williams, the 15th overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, has shown significant potential during his rookie season with the Charlotte Hornets. He has been putting up impressive numbers in limited playing time, displaying his potential to become a dominant force in the NBA.
Williams has been putting up absurd per-minute numbers whenever given extended minutes, which highlights his efficiency and productivity in the limited minutes he has received. He has shown an excellent ability to finish around the rim, as well as impressive shot-blocking skills, averaging 2.1 blocks per 36 minutes of playing time. Williams has also proven himself to be an excellent rebounder, averaging 13.3 rebounds per 36 minutes. Despite his impressive numbers, Williams has not been consistently given opportunities to play significant minutes, which has limited his exposure and recognition. However, his potential as a two-way player is evident, and his ability to protect the rim and finish around the basket makes him a valuable asset to the Hornets. Look out for him to be a two-way force in the NBA as the big man renaissance continues.
5. Ochai Agbaji
Ochai Agbaji was well known for his defensive prowess during his tenure at Kansas. However, there were always questions about his offensive game. His senior year he showed tremendous growth as a shooter, and his total improvement over his four years in college was impressive to say the least. He progressed from a questionable shooter to being one of the best shooters in his draft class.
With all he accomplished in college, it may seem strange to say Agbaji is a hidden gem. However, despite these accolades, Ochai has not received much attention this season. This lack of acclaim may stem from him racking up DNP-CDs early in the season. Injuries to Jordan Clarkson and Collin Sexton opened up a spot in the starting lineup for him and as a starter he has averaged 12.3 points per game, shooting 43.2% from the field and 37.5% from 3. He is already showing elite 3&D potential, and if he can improve as a ball handler and facilitator he could be an all-star in the NBA.
The five players we have discussed have all shown immense potential and aren't getting the love they deserve. Tari Eason's versatility, athleticism, and defensive skills make him a valuable asset for any team, while Jaden Hardy's impressive scoring ability and playmaking skills highlight his potential as an NBA superstar. AJ Griffin's size, athleticism, and shooting touch give him the potential to become a dominant wing in the NBA, while Mark Williams' impressive per-minute numbers and two-way potential make him a valuable asset for the Hornets. Finally, Ochai Agbaji's physical tools and basketball IQ make him a potential star in the making, with the ability to make an impact at both ends of the court. While these players may not be receiving their fair share of hype, their skills, work ethic, and potential suggest that they are destined for great things in the NBA.
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